There are times when fate steps in and all things seem to come out just right. Plans for the trip to Arkansas and the Buffalo River Trail fell apart, leaving us both pretty dejected. It just wasn’t meant to be. At least not yet. As it turned out, we ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.
Switching gears, we worked out a trip to GSMNP with the intent of seeing some areas we hadn’t had the opportunity to get to yet. Everything came together with respect to reservations and permits. And just in the nick of time. Shortly before leaving home, I stumbled upon a news article about a man attempting this year to become the oldest person to ever thru hike the AT. Reading on, I discover that its none other than the legendary Nimblewill Nomad. If you have never heard of Nimblewill, you can find out more about him here or read his books Ten Million Steps and Where Less the Path is Worn. Or just Google him. Or simply ask any hiker who has put some miles under their feet. In short, I can’t imagine that there are too many people on this earth that have walked as many miles as Nimblewill. Check out his website for accounts of the tens of thousands of miles of trekking this man has done.
So, the article said that he would turn 84 on his way from Flagg Mountain in Alabama to Mt Katahdin in Maine. Yep, I said Flagg Mountain in Alabama. Nimblewill had long advocated for extending the AT south from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Flagg, the southern-most peak over 1,000 ft in the Appalachians. He has served as caretaker at the former CCC camp at the park since 2018, planning to return upon completion of his latest trek. To get to the current official southern terminus, Springer, he would first walk the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama and Georgia and then a short stretch of the Benton MacKaye Trail. More than 400 miles of walking before even starting the nearly 2,200 miles of the AT. At the age of 83!
As the day to head for the park drew near, I thought I would check on his progress. To my astonishment, he was closing in on Fontana. After some ciphering, it appeared he just might pass through about the same time we were to be there. What are the chances? I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. We got to the park and did our first three hikes. Once we made it up to the AT on the walk up Twentymile, I began to ask hikers if they had run into Nimblewill. “Yeah, I hiked with him a bit last week” and “Yep, just passed him a couple of days ago”. We hiked on down to Fontana and checked into the lodge.
The next day, we headed down to the store to do laundry before setting off on the Lakeshore Trail the following day. I walked out of the store and several young thru hikers I had spoken to earlier shouted “Hey, did you see Nomad? He was just here”. CRAP!!! I missed meeting hiking legend Nimblewill Nomad because I had to wash some stupid stinkin’ underwear!!! I couldn’t believe it. Dejected over the thought that my opportunity to meet him had slipped away, I headed into the laundry room to check on how things were going with Loonie, then walked back outside. I looked up to see three men approaching, one with long grey/white hair and beard. There was no question it was him.
I approached and introduced myself and Loonie. He was just as I imagined. Humble and soft-spoken. I’m certain he wanted nothing more than to get off his weary feet and rest, yet he graciously took the time to talk with us at length. He grew up in Missouri (our neighbor state and where I work) and some years back he had hiked what he refers to as the “Triple-O”, Missouri’s Ozark Trail and Arkansas’ Ozark Highlands and Ouachita Trails. Combined, more than 1,100 miles. The Buffalo River Trail makes up a portion of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I told him I had read his journal from the Triple-O and mentioned that we had planned on doing the BRT before we had to change plans. When I quizzed him about the water crossings along the BRT, he just chuckled and with a grin said “Yeah, I’ve had a few. Don’t let that stop ya. You’ll do just fine. Just go do it”. After snapping a couple of pics, we mentioned that we didn’t want to hold him up any longer and thanked him for his time. With that, he was off to the store to purchase a loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter. Peanut butter and bread and this 83 year old could kick my butt! Awesome!!!
So, everything worked out just fine. Actually, far better than I could have ever imagined. This could very well be Nimblewill’s final grand trek and for a few brief moments in time, Loonie and I got to be a part of that experience. Turns out we were right where we were supposed to be afterall. Thanks once more Mr Eberhart…Nimblewill…for letting us be a part of it!
Update: Nimblewill has made it through the Smokies and is currently taking a much needed day off at Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs, NC. Be sure to keep him in your prayers!
More to come…